Friday, September 25, 2009

The swarm that didn't happen

After a long morning of recovering from the previous night’s book party with Hubert van Toots in the Library at the Hagiographers Club with a relic, (If you don’t get the reference, you obviously haven’t read the book.) I was finally about to sit down & work. When outside my window I espied thousands of bees flying in that apparently random yet purposeful way they have only when they are swarming. My desk window is quite close to the bay window in the living room where the observation hive lives, and as you may recall, the observation hive has been acting strangely of late. (The dearth of brood. Then the hasty and mysterious dispatch of the newly installed marked Queen. Reginicide?)
I looked and indeed the bees were bearding the extended runway from the observation hive. I ran over to check the hive itself, and – this was the strangest part – it was completely empty. There was not a bee anywhere, not even a single lone bee emerging from a single honeycomb cell.

Of course I immediately called CSB. Sit tight, he said. Go back to work. I normally take unmitigated delight in a swarm (something like a Ringhead at Bayreuth) but in this case I had mixed feelings, because the observation hive’s population was so small to begin with and because of the season (autumn has just begin) which is most definitely not swarming season.
There was nothing to be done.
I stood still among the dancing, careening, swooping bees. My eyes are not good enough to discern a direction. I waited for them to alight on a nearby branch and gather.
I waited in vain.
The bees dissipated into the upper regions.
I returned to my desk.

About an hour later I forlornly went to see the observation hive, and …the bees had returned. All of them.
Did they contemplate swarming and then reconsider mid-flight?
Did something scare them from their comfortable home chez nous?
I have no idea.

One of the odder things I have noted about swarms, or swarming, is that this phenomenon, this brilliant divide-and-increase technique of the honeybees, is always used metaphorically in a negative way. A recent cursory search came up with these examples:
Swarming as a terrorist technique in Mumbai (Times Op-Ed, 2/2009);
Swarming lobbyists (Times, 11/08)
Swarming to characterize E-bay’s takeover strategy (Times, 8/07)
Swarming swindlers (Times, 11/07)
Perhaps more significantly, in NO cases were swarms used to describe behavior viewed as positive, or persons or groups regarded as benign.

Segueing in the most arbitrary fashion, from a swarm that did not occur, to a roman à clef that is not:

At the aforementioned lovely book party my dear friend and gracious host, Paco, pointed out that despite our long friendship and history together, he has never found himself as a character in one of my books. And – this is the remarkable part – he lamented this fact!
I know Paco quite well and did not expect to be surprised by his remarks (honored, delighted, mortified, chagrined maybe), but this did surprise me because the truth is that certain people who think they appear in my stories are not pleased. They object to being in the book, and then they object because I got it wrong! And despite all my reassurances that I write fiction and that the characters really are fictional (I’ve even been told they are “all lies” as if that were a problem) the objections continue.

A former relative (how’s that for an awkward epithet?) was fearful that she or my ex would appear in Absent a Miracle and so, long before the book was available for sale, she bought an Advance Review Copy on E-bay.
(Pity the poor reviewer with stacks of ARCs clamoring for shelf space. And then, mirabile dictu, E-Bay) According to my ex I should be flattered because she (former relative) actually finished the book. Was this meant as a comment on the quality of the book or on her reading skill?

In my long ago short novel, Expecting, the narrator had a brother. I have 3 brothers and all three of them objected to the fact that they were not identifiably in the book and that I had lumped all brothers into one generic brother.

What’s a writer to do?

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